The schedule I keep while working from home isn’t all that much different than the schedule I keep at the office. Every morning around 9:30, I’m ready for a stretch and a little walk around after two hours of sitting, caffeinating, and reading email. It’s in that spirit that I took the dogs out this morning for their mid-morning bathroom break.
That’s when I realized the outside wasn’t thunderously loud with the screeching of cicadas. Oh, they’re still there “singing” in the background, but they’re not overwhelming every other noise in the woods for the first time in weeks.
I don’t know if it’s just because this morning is relatively cool compared to last week or if it’s a sign that we’re truly over the hump with these little bastards. Either way, for a few minutes this morning I enjoyed the outside in a way I haven’t in weeks.
Those few minutes, coffee in hand, listening to the normal sounds of my woods returning, felt surprisingly good – like something I didn’t even know I needed.
It’s a truly small win, but as the kids might say, “I’m here for it.”
1. Cicadas. I’m adding “cicada free zone” to my list of requirements for the day I start really assessing potential locations for retirement living. Here in my bit of woods they’re now loud enough to clearly be heard inside the house… with the television on and washing machine running. I’ve heard it said that people who live near Niagara Falls don’t even notice the roaring water. Maybe it’s true of cicadas too… but they won’t be around long enough to get used to… and in the meantime they may drive me perfectly mad.
2. One specific bookseller. I ordered three books from a reasonably well rated online bookseller on the west coast back on May 20th. On May 21st, they created a shipping label. After that there have been no further updates. As far as I can tell, there has been no movement on this order and the retailer has not responded to my inquiries about the status of my shipment. This morning I handed the situation over to the platform the retailer uses to facilitate sales and await their response on what resolution I can expect. I’m often willing to overlook misfires on random dollar paperbacks or reading copies, but with real folding money tied up in these particular books, I’m afraid I’m going to have to get belligerent.
3. Wait and see. I don’t have a brain that’s particularly well wired for patience. It’s a skill I’ve managed to teach myself, but not one that I’ll probably ever be entirely comfortable with exercising. I’m perfectly willing to sit through long periods of inactivity when there’s nothing that needs doing. That shouldn’t be mistaken for laziness, though, because when the bell rings and something needs done, I’ll come charging from my corner like the last angry man in America. I don’t like things that need doing when they linger about. There are times, though, where there are things that need doing and I lack the knowledge, skills, ability, or access to do anything about them. The ones where I’m nothing but a deeply interested observer are absolutely the worst of the things.
1. Timing. The 76 billion cicadas camping in my back yard are fine – aside from the dogs wanting to eat all of them. I generally don’t get freaked out by bugs. Their early morning screeching is what I’d charitably describe as “troublesome.” It’s made my favorite pastime of sitting on the patio for an hour each morning with coffee and a good book decidedly unpleasant. I know they’re temporary, but the little bastards are stepping all over the last days of full-time working from home. That’s just exquisitely bad timing… and I hate them for that.
2. Eligibility requirements. Marylanders who received the COVID-19 vaccination are eligible for daily drawings for $40,000… unless you’re one of the Marylanders who got the “federal” vaccine instead of the state jab. That puts me out of the running. Would I have waited a few more weeks to get the vaccine if I knew I could win a sweepstakes? Maybe. I suppose the world will never know… but I want my damned money.
3. Good intentions. The people who control the Thrift Savings Plan, the federal government’s version of a 401(k) retirement plan are being pressured to make two significant changes to how the fund is managed. The first would see the TSP divest from fossil fuel securities, with an eye towards, supposedly, making the investment funds “environmentally conscious.” The second major change would be driven by proposed congressional legislation to prohibit TSP from investing an any company based in China. Maybe both of those are admirable objectives and people should feel free to target their own money in whatever fashion they want… but for the TSP in general, which bears the lion’s share of responsibility to secure federal employees’ retirement. Personally, I want fund managers laser focused on driving down costs and maximizing return on investment… while keeping the “good intentions” of socially crusading politicians as far away as humanly possible
1. A crowded room. There’s something (well, maybe everything) about the roar of a crowded room. It’s truly the sound I hate most in the world. So many people. So needy. So many questions. All overlapping, running together, and becoming indistinguishable from all the constituent sounds, as every voice gets louder in a failed attempt to project itself above the others. Just listening to it consumes every bit of energy I can muster. Truly hell is just a room full of other people.
2. Own it. One of the marks of a decent human being, in my opinion, has always been their willingness to accept responsibility for their decisions and actions. A decent person owns it, even when they’ve cocked up. I can’t list the number of times this week, “Yep, I fucked that up” has come flying out of my mouth. I might not do it with a song In my heart, but the one promise I can make is that I’ll stand the hell up and be counted for the bad as well as the good. If only showing that kind of personal courage was part of some kind of organizational system of basic values. You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.
3. Slobs. You are grown ass adults representing some of the largest corporations in the world. Stuffing a banana peel beneath your seat for someone else to deal with, much like an ill-behaved toddler, really should be beneath your dignity. Even if it’s not beneath your dignity you should damned well be old enough to know better. Even if neither one of those is the case, I’m more than happy to disabuse you of the notion that you’re in any way special and deserving of delicate treatment. You’re just a douchebag. Hopefully I’ll see you doing it tomorrow so I can tell you to your face.
1. Doing it on the cheap. I’m assuming that the plastic mailbox pedestal you’ve installed proudly in the front yard is supposed to look like stone. I’m sure you’re trying hard to ape the style of the big houses up the hill. I’m sure someone in your house, maybe even you, thought it looked good. That assessment was incorrect. It’s tacky as hell.
2. Jet noise. Local news out of Anne Arundel County reports that residents near Baltimore-Washington International Airport are upset because they’re hearing jet noise. Let’s recap: 1) You bought a house near the airport; 2) Now you’re upset that airports are noisy and want the county to make the FAA do something about it. In summation: You’re an idiot.
3. Wind and the failure to plan for it. Every trash can in the neighborhood blew over last night. Since the weather reports were all calling for a dramatic change in weather following a fast moving system of thunder storms, high wind overnight shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But it did, because of course it did. Now, those overturned 60-gallon rolling trash barrels have spewed paper products and plastic bottles into every gutter and wood line, leaving our little corner of the county looking like some kind of 3rd world shithole. Somehow I don’t expect the doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs in my hood will bother themselves it make it right. All for the want of a few $2 bungee cords.
I learned something new today. Well, it wasn’t really new, but it’s something I had completely forgotten. It seems if you play really pretty bad music from the early 1990s at as high a level as your radio will manage, and keep just the right pace to maintain a healthy dose of highway noise, you can reach a kind of nirvana. Just before your ears start bleeding there will be such a clash of sound flooding into your head that it will push out every other coherent though. More importantly it will silence, at least temporarily, that part of your brain that keeps telling you to cash it all in, sell it all off, drive to nowhere, get a shit job that requires no skill or independent though, and spend the rest of your days reading every book in the public library of whatever small town you end up in.
The only side effect is a blinding headache and inability to hear anything below a dull roar. Whatever it takes to stave off the madness one more day, I suppose.e
1. Too quiet. I’m generally a guy who appreciates his peace and quiet. Except when that quiet comes in the form of one of the meeting rooms I occasionally get stuck in. It’s not technically an anechoic chamber, but it’s awfully close. The small battery powered clock on the wall ticks with the sound of thunder and you can definitely hear the sound of the blood pumping through your ears when you’re the only one in there. As much as I appreciate a nice quiet workplace, apparently being surrounded by sound deadening material is my bridge too far. Surprisingly, even for me, there is such a thing as too quiet. Who knew?
2. Every Saturday. I get groceries every Saturday morning. It’s as ingrained into The Routine as brewing a pot of coffee first thing in the morning. Apparently a lot of other people also do their shopping on Saturday mornings too… which is why I don’t understand why every Saturday feels like I’m surrounded by people who are experiencing the grocery store for the first time. I don’t get the people walking around in awe of the abundance before them or the ones who don’t seem to have any earthly idea why they’re there or what they’re supposed to load into their cart to take home. Can we at least try to have a list, a plan, and not spend half the damned day wandering around as if the pasta aisle was the latest Magic Kingdom attraction?
3. Bank of America. Bank of America gets featured here a lot, but I actually tried hard to like them. Their online banking system is second to none and they had branches and ATMs just about everywhere I’d ever want to be. Their website is still top notch in my opinion, but over the last two months, I’ve watched their local ATMs practically drop off the face of the earth. I went from having four of them spread out along my daily commute path to having none. There’s still a branch office open locally, but not in a location that’s convenient to any of my normal travels… and it’s safe to assume I won’t be making any special trips just for the privilege of being a Bank of America customer. Sure, I’ll keep an account open with them in case I ever needed it, but I’m pointing my direct deposit and bill pay to one of the local credit unions. I really did like their big bank feel, but not enough to get stuck paying $5 in fees every time I wanted a few twenty dollar bills. There are just too many other, cheaper options to stick around for that kind of asshattery.
1. Pandemonium. Despite the common perception, I’m a quiet guy. I enjoy reading. I enjoy writing. I generally enjoy activities that limit the amount of social interaction that are really required of me, though with some effort, I can make a good showing when I do need to make nice with a crowd. If you ever want to really throw me off my game, all you really need to do is drive up the noise level in the room and my nerves will start fraying on command. My blood pressure will spike and I’ll end up using most of my available focus to simply avoid biting someone’s head off. It’s not a recipe for great productivity. Maybe I really should have looked into career opportunities as a research librarian or lighthouse keeper if the whole writing thing doesn’t take off. That or possibly move my desk into an anechoic chamber.
2. Air conditioning. I’ve been known to keep it cold in the house. I’ve been known to keep it cold in the truck. What I don’t do is keep it so cold in either of those places that I need to wear gloves and a coat while I’m inside either of them. I mean it’s fun to have to stop every few minutes to keep your fingers from stiffening up and making typing damned near impossible, but it seems to me that maybe the best course of action would be to moderate the indoor air temperature a bit rather than setting it to arctic and throwing the blowers on full blast. I’m not a fancy big city engineer or HVAC specialist, but it seems to me that there are some settings on the dial between Ice Age and Sahara that someone might want to test out.
3. False advertising. Walking into a supermarket and you can usually expect to come out with groceries. Walk into Best Buy and you can usually expect to walk out with electronics. Walk into a bar and you can usually buy beer. If you think you can walk into a shop advertising out front that ‘We Sell Silver” and walk out with silver however, you would be wrong. Apparently what they meant by that sign was “We Buy Silver.” Clearly the meaning of “buy” and “sell” have been lost somewhere in translation.
Ten people sit in this room on days when we all happen to be here. This morning six of them are on the phone, three of them are engaged in a heated yet pointless conversation, and then there’s me sitting here trying to keep my head from exploding while listening to the whole cacophony grow louder and louder with each passing minute. I’m sure at least 50% of what’s going on is more or less work related, but really what I need them all to do is just STFU for a few minutes. As good as I usually am at blocking out whatever chaos is going on around me, they’re getting on my last nerve this morning for some reason. It’s good that my desire to stay out of prison is so strong, because otherwise I’d probably go on a wild 3-hole punch swinging rampage.
Sometimes I wonder if the bosses think that lots of noise equals lots of things getting done. It could be that I’m just the outlier here, but my work tends to be better when I have a nice quiet place to work on it without too many superfluous interruptions. If I had skills that were marketable anywhere other than to other big government agencies, I’d strongly consider just hanging out my own shingle and then only accepting work via email. It’s a real pity that landed gentry in England stopped hiring hermits to live on the grounds as part of the scenery round about the time the Victorian style passed from fashion. I think I’d have been exceptionally talented in that field of endeavor.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
There is no more telling sound of freedom than jet noise… particularly the noise from blue and yellow F/A-18 Hornets executing a perfect missing man formation. The Blue Angels are in town for an airshow this weekend and one of the perks of working on base is that we get a 2-day free show as they practice. Hey, it beats queuing up with thousands of West Tennessians on Saturday, so I’m enjoying it. I haven’t decided if I’m going up this weekend to test the stop motion feature on the old camera. It’s a hellish battle between being a hermit and a growing interest in photography. Changes are, being a hermit is going to win.